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30-11-2010 | General practice | Article

Doctors cautious over public health plans


Department of Health - Healthy Lives, Healthy People White Paper

Doctors' groups have responded cautiously to the government's White Paper on public health reform announced this week.

Under the proposals, the public health budget will be ringfenced and responsibility transferred to local authorities from NHS trusts, while a premium based on narrowing health inequalities is to be introduced.

And the government says it will take a 'less intrusive' approach to public health, encouraging healthy behaviours rather than placing restrictions on people's lifestyle choices. It aims to 'nudge' people into healthy lifestyles with incentives and rewards, for example through private-sector funded vouchers for gym membership and healthy foods and drink.

The BMA's Director of Professional Activities, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, said that 'nudging' people will only be effective if the environment helps people to make healthy choices. She said tougher action is needed and called on the Health Secretary to end tobacco displays in large supermarkets by September 2011, as outlined in the 2009 Health Act.

"It is also important to stress that the issue of health inequalities is complex and focusing solely on health will not fully address the widening gap," Nathanson added.

Director of policy at the King's Fund, Anna Dixon welcomed the move to put local authorities in charge, saying it could improve co-ordination of key services. But she restated the Fund's concern that public health must not be separated from the work of the NHS. "GPs and other health professionals have a vital contribution to make so we welcome the emphasis… on strengthening the role of GPs in improving the health of their local populations," she said.

Royal College of GPs (RCGP) president, Dr Clare Gerada, commented: "General practice has to continue to play a role in ensuring the health of the public as we move into a world where GPs will be responsible for the population's health… The RCGP will be working closely with the Faculty for Public Health to take forward the College's thinking on how GPs and public health doctors can work most effectively together."

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